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SMALL v.

UNITED STATES
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE
THIRD CIRCUIT
Petitioner Small was convicted in a Japanese
Court of trying to smuggle firearms and ammunition into that
country. He served five years in prison and then returned to the
United States, where he bought a gun. Federal authorities
subsequently charged Small under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), which
forbids any person convicted in any court of a crime
punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year to
possess any firearm. (Emphasis added.) Small pleaded guilty
while reserving the right to challenge his conviction on the ground
that his earlier conviction, being foreign, fell outside 922(g)(1)s
scope. The Federal District Court and the Third Circuit rejected this
argument.
Held: Section 922(g)(1)s phrase convicted in any court
encompasses only domestic, not foreign, convictions. Pp. 29.
(a) In considering the scope of the phrase convicted in any court
it is appropriate to assume that Congress had domestic concerns
in mind. This assumption is similar to the legal presumption that
Congress ordinarily intends its statutes to have domestic, not
extraterritorial,
application,
see, e.g.,
Foley
Bros.,
Inc.v. Filardo, 336 U.S. 281, 285. The phrase convicted in any
court describes one necessary portion of the gun possession
activity that is prohibited as a matter of domestic law. Moreover,
because foreign convictions may include convictions for conduct
that domestic laws would permit, e.g., for engaging in economic
conduct that our society might encourage, convictions from a legal
system that are inconsistent with American understanding of
fairness, and convictions for conduct that domestic law punishes
far less severely, the key statutory phrase convicted in any court
of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one
year somewhat less reliably identifies dangerous individuals for
the purposes of U.S. law where foreign convictions, rather than
domestic convictions, are at issue. In addition, it is difficult to read
the statute as asking judges or prosecutors to refine its definitional

distinctions where foreign convictions are at issue. To somehow


weed out inappropriate foreign convictions that meet the statutory
definition is not consistent with the statutes language; it is not
easy for those not versed in foreign laws to accomplish; and it
would leave those previously convicted in a foreign court (say of
economic crimes) uncertain about their legal obligations. These
considerations provide a convincing basis for applying the ordinary
assumption about the reach of domestically oriented statutes here.
Thus, the Court assumes a congressional intent that the phrase
convicted in any court applies domestically, not extraterritorially,
unless the statutory language, context, history, or purpose shows
the contrary. Pp. 25.
(b) There is no convincing indication to the contrary here. The
statutes language suggests no intent to reach beyond domestic
convictions. To the contrary, if read to include foreign convictions,
the statutes language creates anomalies. For example, in creating
an exception allowing gun possession despite a conviction for an
antitrust or business regulatory crime, 921(a)(20)(A) speaks of
Federal or State antitrust or regulatory offenses. If the phrase
convicted in any court generally refers only to domestic
convictions, this language causes no problem. But if the phrase
includes foreign convictions, the words Federal or State prevent
the exception from applying where a foreign antitrust or regulatory
conviction is at issue. Such illustrative examples suggest that
Congress did not consider whether the generic phrase convicted
in any court applies to foreign convictions. Moreover, the statutes
legislative history indicates no intent to reach beyond domestic
convictions. Although the statutory purpose of keeping guns from
those likely to become a threat to society does offer some support
for reading 922(g)(1) to include foreign convictions, the likelihood
that Congress, at best, paid no attention to the matter is
reinforced by the empirical fact that, according to the Government,
since 1968, there have fewer than a dozen instances in which such
a foreign conviction has served as a predicate for a felon-inpossession prosecution. Pp. 58. 333 F.3d 425, reversed and
remanded.